It really has been a funny old year to be in the holiday letting business. What we thought would be a brief shutdown to get things under control quickly turned into a major issue. I’ve been thanking my lucky stars that (a) we’re in Scotland, where things seem to have been handled a bit more efficiently than England and (b) we’re in the Highlands where infection rates have remained very low.
I was lucky in that Ethel’s was on business rates and therefore qualified for the £10,000 Covid grant (although initially the Scottish government wasn’t going to give it to self-catering accommodation, unlike the English holiday lets). Coldbackie was supposed to open in May, but couldn’t go onto business rates until it actually did open – all work ground to a halt there and it eventually opened in the last few days of August.
I was initially cheered by the extra cover on my insurance policy, which had a clause that covered me for business interruption caused by “an occurrence of any human infectious or human contagious disease, an outbreak of which must be notified to the local authority” – which you might have thought covered Covid. The insurers disagreed and said that since my premises weren’t themselves affected, just people’s ability to travel to them, no claim was allowed. This has now gone through the courts, fronted by the FCA, and is still rumbling on.
Officially Scotland was allowed to open up its self-catering facilities again at the beginning of July, but our village was extremely nervous about tourists coming back to the area (on the North Coast 500 route, we were flooded with campervans as soon as restrictions lifted), so out of respect for our neighbours we kept Ethel’s closed until the beginning of August, losing another month of what would have been peak income.
Through August, September and October we were packed, back-to-back weeks at Ethel’s and mostly full at Coldbackie even though it was a new launch. We decided not to go for our booking agent’s Safer Stays badge, as one of the criteria for getting it was moving check-out time to 9am and check-in to 5pm – and reading through a couple of Mumsnet threads full of outrage about the idea from people trying to book holidays, we decided we’d stick to the rest of the principles but keep our original times. The extra clean-down with an antiviral spray added about an hour to the turnaround time, but we bought second sets of things like handwash, washing up liquid and so on and just swapped them out each week to quarantine them rather than having to wipe them all down.
And now we’re in November, England is back in lockdown, most of Scotland is in tier 3 and I’m sitting here in tier 1 having gone from a completely fully booked November to a grand total of 12 nights. My two-week Christmas and New Year booking has cancelled (and bless them for cancelling it early and not hanging on, because I might pick up another one from someone within the Highlands) and essentially I’m expecting no money from now until March (which is already full at Ethel’s bar the last few days that start the week going into April!).
That said, if no income over winter, when I’m losing about £290 a week, means I can open all summer in 2021, when I make about £900 a week, I’ll take this current shutdown. With the news about the Pfizer vaccine breaking a few days ago, I’m hopeful that 2021 will be a brighter year for business.